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    School of Biosciences, Faculty of Science

    Receive advanced training in bioarchaeology to gain a deep understanding of the biological context and evolutionary history of past human populations, including evidence of the animals, plants and environments in which they lived.
    Archaeological science

    Course description

    You'll gain scientific knowledge and skills training through the core modules, and be able to tailor your course to your own interests by choosing from a range of bioarchaeological modules tied to zoology, botany, evolution, landscapes and ecosystems. You’ll also develop the professional and transferable skills you need to progress to a career in this field.

    Graduates from this course have pursued careers in academia, commercial archaeology, heritage management and museums. Many go on to PhDs.


    A selection of modules is available each year - some examples are below. There may be changes before you start your course. From May of the year of entry, formal programme regulations will be available in our Programme Regulations Finder.

    Core modules:

    Applied Bioarchaeological Science

    This course acquaints the student with a number of scientific analytical techniques and methods which are pertinent to the interpretation of key questions in bioarchaeology. These include histology and microscopic, chemical and isotopic techniques, ancient DNA analysis, lipid analysis and proteomics. It provides a theoretical introduction as well as some practical experience in sample preparation methodologies, data collection and analysis. The potential and limitations of methods are discussed through specific case studies.

    15 credits
    Advanced Scientific Skills

    This module builds on existing, and further develops, generic scientific skills to equip postgraduate taught students with strong competences in presenting and reporting their research work using written and oral formats, in analysing data and the scientific literature, and in acquiring and extending their critical analysis skills. Teaching will be delivered using a blended approach with a combination of lectures, workshops, tutorials and seminars together with independent study and on-line teaching.

    Taught throughout the academic year, the module will be articulated around three units addressing: 

    Unit 1) Scientific presentation skills. In this unit, students will explore how to develop their academic (writing and oral) presentation skills. Some of the topics taught may include how to formulate a research question and hypothesis, how to find information, and how to structure a scientific essay or report. Students will learn how to communicate effectively their research to a scientific, as well as lay, audience. Emphasis will be placed on short oral communications and poster preparation and presentation.  The learning objectives will be acquired through lectures, workshops, tutorials and independent study.

    Unit 2) Critical analysis skills. This unit prepares students to develop their ability to analyse and appraise the scientific value of the published and unpublished literature. Workshops and lectures will introduce students to the process of critical appraisal of scientific work. 

    Unit 3) Statistics and data analysis skills. In this unit, students will learn methods to gather and analyse large datasets. In particular, workshops and lectures will teach students the basics of R coding and statistics for application in biosciences. The unit may also deliver other forms of data analysis relevant to the programme of study. Teaching within this unit will be delivered mainly through on-line material, lectures and workshops. Independent study will be essential to complete the acquisition of skills.

    15 credits
    Research Design for Bioarchaeology

    This module provides students with the advanced understanding they need to build their confidence in working on archaeological material and datasets, the skills to become an effective independent researcher in bioarchaeology and the tools to design an effective research project that addresses a question relevant to current debate in bioarchaeology. The module engages students with analytical approaches and thematic debates in research across the different fields of bioarchaeology. It supports employability through lectures from bioarchaeology professionals. The module also covers a range of specialist bioarchaeological techniques necessary for effective research, including preparation for undertaking assemblage-based reporting in professional and academic research.The module culminates in a research day during which students present their dissertation plans to their peers and staff assessors.

    Assessment is in three parts: a seminar report presented as a scientific poster; a succinct PowerPoint presentation of the dissertation proposal and outline; and a written dissertation proposal.

    15 credits
    Dissertation (Journal Paper Style)

    This module requires students to plan, execute and write up an original research project. This dissertation project is chosen with, and approved by, the designated supervisor, who may or may not be the programme director. Dissertation topics must be based on original research and on the students' own ideas: they must be worthwhile, affordable, manageable within time limits, be capable of supervision within the Department and related to the subject matter on the appropriate Masters. Students who choose this particular type of dissertation will place particular emphasis on synthetic writing and an ability to familiarise themselves with journal publication submission and style. With the exception of the word count the students will follow the editorial guidelines of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

    60 credits

    Optional modules

    A student will take 45 credits (three modules) from this group:

    Biological Anthropology I

    The module provides a theoretical background to the study of human skeletal remains as well as essential practical skills in the osteological analysis of human bone.

    15 credits

    Zooarchaeology (or Archaeozoology) is the study of past human interaction with animals through the analysis of their material remains. This module provides a practical introduction to the identification, analysis and interpretation of animal bones from archaeological sites and acquaints you with a number of tools available to study the human-animal relationship. 

    Practical skills are developed through group laboratory work, concentrating mainly on mammals. Methodological and theoretical issues in archaeological interpretation are discussed in the classes in combination with the hands-on work. Drawing on examples from recent research, an appreciation of the important role animals have played in the history of human societies is developed.

    15 credits

    This module introduces the ways in which archaeologists reconstruct past environments. Through a combination of different learning experiences (lectures, student-led seminars, practical classes and directed independent study) students will explore a variety of contemporary and ancient environments as well as enhance their understanding of the methods and professional standards of environmental reconstruction. Seminars and assessments will encourage students to apply the concepts and methods introduced in the module to their specific areas of interest. Emphasis is upon the most common analytical techniques. The intent is to provide a working knowledge of many techniques, and awareness of others, which require a more extensive practice to master and apply successfully.

    15 credits
    Human Anatomy

    This module familiarises students with the human musculoskeletal system, providing knowledge of the head, neck and appendicular skeleton and its muscles and nerves, as well as insights into functional, developmental and comparative aspects of human morphology

    15 credits
    Human Osteology

    In this module the students are introduced to the human skeleton, both adult and immature, and comparative primate skeletons. They are provided with in depth information on how to recognise individual bones, how to side elements by being familiar with all pertinent landmarks. They will be introduced to the size and shape variation present in the skeleton of Homo sapiens, including variations due to sex, ethnic affinity, and temporal changes.

    15 credits

    This module comprises laboratory classes involving practical handling of archaeobotanical material as well as student-led seminars reviewing key methodological debates in archaeobotany and exploring the implications of similar debates in archaeozoology. It delivers practical skills in identification, recording, analysis and interpretation of archaeobotanical remains; explores sampling strategies and recovery techniques; considers the implications of taphonomy and different scales of analysis; evaluates such theoretical issues as analogy and uniformitarianism; emphasising the reconstruction of crop processing and the integration of animal and plant exploitation. The module is assessed by an extended essay and a problem-solving exercise.

    15 credits
    Landscapes in archaeology: methods and perspectives

    This unit introduces the ways in which researchers have thought about landscape in archaeology and situates these perspectives within the methods that are commonplace in landscape research. Through a mix of lectures, seminars and practicals we will explore a variety of themes that together reflect the broad range of contemporary issues in landscape studies. These approaches will be applied through an analysis of a specific landscape using skills in observational survey, cartographic analysis, archival research and aerial photography gained during the practical classes. The emphasis is upon grasping both the methods and their application to specific archaeological questions.

    15 credits
    Reinventing Archaeology

    This course will seek to understand how the structure of the modern practice of archaeology has come about and how changes in working methods and theoretical perspective may reconfigure the discipline. Reference will be made to the debates in method and theory and the relationships among certain specialisms. Students will develop, and to be able to express, their understanding of the discipline and the current and future position of their own ambitions.

    15 credits

    Optional modules

    A student will take 30 credits (two modules) from this group:

    Advanced Zooarchaeology

    This unit is designed for students who have already taken a basic module in zooarchaeology (e.g. AAP661) or have equivalent experience and provides them with the opportunity to investigate the subject at a more specialised level. All key zooarchaeological areas are touched upon but more complex aspects of methods and their applications than those taught in a foundation module are presented and discussed. In other words this module moves the teaching towards full training - rather than merely educational - purposes. It is based on a variety of hands-on sessions, lectures, seminars and discussion groups.

    15 credits
    Evolutionary Anatomy

    This module incorporates lectures and practical demonstration (laboratory) sessions to explore the application of anatomical principles to the comparison and interpretation of the hominid and primate fossil record. The schedule is co-ordinated with that of AAP683, and incorporates additional material in lab sessions to understand the functional and comparative anatomy of modern and extinct hominoid primates. Demonstrations apply the knowledge of musculoskeletal and comparative anatomy to interpretation of hominid fossil specimens (casts and published information), and to understand the evolutionary adaptations of the hominid lineage.

    15 credits
    Human Evolution: Theory and Practice in Research

    This seminar module will present both historical and current issues in the study of human evolution, including new hominid fossil descriptions, debates over interpretations and explanatory models of primate and hominid palaeobiology, theoretical and philosophical topics in evolution, and practical and technological advances in early hominid fossil and archaeological interpretation. In some weeks, students will be required to prepare materials to lead the seminars, and occasional group work exercises will be introduced. The seminar topics will change from year to year to reflect new research, staff projects, guest lecturer availability, and student interests.

    15 credits
    Funerary Archaeology

    This module provides an advanced level exploration of human responses to death in societies around the world. Delivered through a series of themed lectures and seminars, case studies focus on the nature and interpretation of the burial record, and survey the methods of analysis, theoretical underpinnings and material residues of funerary ritual helping the student to develop a broad knowledge of burial rites and a nuanced understanding of the discipline of funerary archaeology.

    15 credits

    The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research; funding changes; professional accreditation requirements; student or employer feedback; outcomes of reviews; and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption.

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    You may also be able to pre-book a department visit as part of a campus tour.Open days and campus tours


    1 year full-time


    You can expect a balanced timetable of lectures, seminars and practicals. You’ll have access to specialist labs and world-class reference collections. We integrate humanities and science-based approaches to nurture a deeper understanding. You’ll have the opportunity to explore different viewpoints and make up your own mind about their strengths and weaknesses.

    We’ll help you to develop your critical thinking as well as your practical skills. What we ask of you, as a member of our lively academic community, is that you challenge, question, and explore.


    Your assessments will include essays, portfolio work, practical work and a journal-style paper.


    School of Biosciences

    The School of Biosciences brings together more than 100 years of teaching and research expertise across the breadth of biology.

    It’s home to over 120 lecturers who are actively involved in research at the cutting edge of their field, sharing their knowledge with more than 1,500 undergraduate and 300 postgraduate students. 

    We carry out world-leading research to address the most important global challenges such as food security, disease, health and medicine, ageing, energy, and the biodiversity and climate crises.

    Our expertise spans the breadth and depth of bioscience, including molecular and cell biology, genetics, development, human physiology and pharmacology through to evolution, ecology, biodiversity conservation and sustainability. This makes us one of the broadest and largest groupings of the discipline and allows us to train the next generation of biologists in the latest research techniques and discoveries.

    Entry requirements

    Minimum 2:1 undergraduate honours degree in an arts, humanities or science subject.

    Your interest in and understanding of archaeology is more important than what you studied at undergraduate level: we may consider degrees in other subjects if you display an interest in archaeology in your application.

    We also consider a wide range of international qualifications:

    Entry requirements for international students

    Overall IELTS score of 6.5 with a minimum of 6.0 in each component, or equivalent.

    Pathway programme for international students

    If you're an international student who does not meet the entry requirements for this course, you have the opportunity to apply for a pre-masters programme in Science and Engineering at the University of Sheffield International College. This course is designed to develop your English language and academic skills. Upon successful completion, you can progress to degree level study at the University of Sheffield.

    If you have any questions about entry requirements, please contact the department.


    You can apply now using our Postgraduate Online Application Form. It's a quick and easy process.

    Apply now


    +44 114 222 2900

    Any supervisors and research areas listed are indicative and may change before the start of the course.

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